The New York Times featured an intriguing story on May 22, “Some College Advice from a Peer,” about a nonprofit organization, College Advising Corps (CAC), that places recent graduates in public high schools as full-time advisers.
The need is certainly there – state and local budget cuts have decimated the ranks of college counselors. The CAC’s goal is to “break down the social, economic and psychological barriers that keep low-income rural students from having a shot at the elite range” of American universities.
According to the article, by Anemona Hartocollis, most low-income kids rely on their parents for college advice, even though many of those parents don’t have a lot of experience themselves. As a result, lots of bright kids end up in “colleges that are less rigorous than they can handle.”
Frankly, college is hard enough – working your way through the myriad forms for scholarships, medical releases, high transcripts, dual-credit approvals, admissions – that getting no advice is sometimes better than bad or inadequate advice. As a university professor, I see it all the time. Too often, students are relying on hearsay, the limited experiences of friends or family members, or (worse) something they read on the Internet. “Fake news” is not just something found in the political arena, believe me!
CAC especially likes hiring graduates who “resemble” the students they’re hoping to help – black, Hispanic and/or from low-income backgrounds. The CAC salaries ain’t great, but there is some money dedicated to tuition loan reduction. And, by all accounts, the program is working.
The trouble is, of course, it is a very small program – with about 600 advisers in as many schools, with about a third in rural areas. There are still hundreds of thousands of deserving students who will receive little or no college counseling across the U.S.
In a perfect world, every potential college student would receive plenty of useable, up-to-the-minute advice. And because of the often dizzying class credit requirements at most universities, they would continue to receive high quality advising through their college careers.
My own university, Baylor, has a large cadre of well-trained advisers. Baylor needs them, too. The school is expensive (as are most private universities) and has an uncommon number of credit hours required to graduate – with the low end being 124 hours. That means if a student makes a single mistake in scheduling, changes majors, or even makes an error in math, I could see them an extra semester or two. This isn’t a big deal for some kids. But for others, the ones the CAC is working with, an extra semester could be prohibitively expensive.
That’s not to mention the fact that the average age of college students is rising, as more and more nontraditional students are entering college later and later. At some schools, seeing classes composed mostly of women in their late thirties with a child or two is the norm, not the exception. These non-trad students come with their own sets of needs and advising issues.
All of that to say, God bless the CAC, but double blessings on the thousands of over-worked high school counselors who are on the front lines of American education. They deal daily with crises of health, crises at home, the wildly divergent needs and expectations of schools from dozens of backgrounds, and wide, almost insurmountable gaps in income and expectations.
You guys are the real heroes.